Another property tax saga concluded on Tuesday, Aug. 20, after a six-hour meeting of budgetary talk and charged, passionate opinions, resulting in a tax rate of $2.262 per $100 of assessed value.
The final vote for the county rate passed by 17 to 7, around 1 a.m. Those that voted against the measure were commissioners Merrol Hyde, Luke Tinsley, Jeremy Mansfield, Moe Taylor, Jerry Becker, Terry Wright and Steve Graves.
The revenue-neutral rate presented at the budget committee meeting on Aug. 12 by Assessor of Property John Isbell, in agreement with the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, was $1.92. The new rate is a 17 percent increase. In 2014 the rate was passed as $2.50, a 23 percent increase.
Isbell gave this same presentation to the full commission and reported that county property value grew by 36.2 percent. He listed the revenue-neutral rates for county municipalities as well.
He also detailed the status of the appeals process. There was a total of 6,852 appeals filed and 183 cases are pending.
There were several attempts to amend the resolution of the rate but all failed with the exception of a proposal by Commissioner Loren Echols to begin the teacher pay raise in January, pending school board approval. There was talk of using $9 million the hospital fund, which is for economic development projects. It was decided not to use the funds for reoccurring expenses.
Recognition of the public followed and included words from 43 speakers. It began at 7:30 p.m. and concluded at 10:45 p.m.
A large portion of this commentary concerned teacher salary increases. Those in favor of the pay raise wore red shirts and some said “Pay our teachers.”
Director of Schools Del Phillips presented the idea during a school board study session on Aug. 6 and brought it to the budget committee. Teachers and certified staff would receive a $4,000 increase, then set for the 2020-2021 school year. This would make salaries competitive with Rutherford, Robertson, Wilson and Williamson. The requested 12 penny allocation was granted, however, it does not capture inflation and those 3 pennies will come out of the school budget.
For budgeting purposes, the value of a penny in Sumner County is $620,000.
“We make a difference, but not a living,” said Beech High School history teacher, Renee Manwaring.
Many questioned the timing of the proposal and why it was not voiced at the Aug. 4 Education Committee meeting. Phillips was in attendance and reported on the grant awarded to put student resource officers in every school. The grant pays for half the salary of an officer for two years. This adds 15 officers and a supervisor and was awarded two pennies. The pay increase was not discussed at that session.
“Why now? How do you increase taxes? You bring in health care, first responders and teachers. Who’s going to vote against that, especially when they’re already due it? They’re already due a raise,” said citizen Kyle Robinson.
Those that were not in support of a tax increase, still stated support for teachers. Elderly on a fixed income were a concern.
“I’m going to talk to you as a senior citizen, because we’re on a limited income, we just have so much. Nobody can give me a job, because I’m too old,” said Hendersonville citizen Jerome McCarter. “Whatever I’ve got is all I’ve got so when I look at any kind of increase in anything, it’s more than I can afford.”
Citizens also spoke in favor of funding for the new justice center and parking garage project.
Eighteenth Judicial District Judge Louis Oliver, spoke on behalf of the six judges that preside over the county.
“The judges without question support the funding of the proceeding of the courthouse, the new courthouse, new judicial center,” he said and talked about the safety of the coming building.
The parking garage been moved to the forefront of the project due to a potential partnership with the city of Gallatin, as discussed by Mayor Paige Brown and city officials. It is expected to cost close to $9 million.
“We would really like to see this parking garage go up first,” said City Councilman Shawn Fennell and called the collaboration a historical moment. “We are scared that if we start this courthouse in the beginning and we don’t start the parking garage it will displace a lot of workers.”
A jail pod is also being added to the forefront of the project. It will house 64 people and has been moved from a later phase to help alleviate jail overcrowding. Budget Committee chairman Chris Taylor has stated that for the last 90 days, the jail has been overcrowded by 60 to 70 people daily. At times mattresses have been put on the floor to accommodate and has been a source of tension.
All together the justice center, garage and jail pod was awarded 4 pennies.
Entwined in it all was finalization of the new fiscal year budget. The budget was previously presented at both June and July commission meetings. In June a continuation budget was settled upon and in July it was pulled from the agenda. The cause for these measures was the unknown tax rate.
Taylor and Finance Director David Lawing gave a presentation detailing budget items and their penny allocation at the Monday meeting.
In addition to the teacher raises, student resource officer increase and jail project, the highway department is being awarded one penny. This is to compensate for the increasing cost of asphalt, concrete and aging machines. Currently there are three trucks that are over 32 years old.
They also discussed inflation, which Lawing contrasted to growth. Taylor described it as a protective measure for the county, should a recession hit.
“I am begging you to please pay attention to the inflation part because what happens is if we don’t capture that inflation, we are sure not going to be able to provide the level of services we have right now,” he said.
The budget resolution for county agencies passed by vote of 21-3. A previous amendment to separate the budget and approve by department failed by 22-2 votes.
The budget for non-profit appropriations passed unanimously.
What is next?
Now that the county tax rate has been passed, Isbell’s office will prepare tax billing file for the Trustee’s Office. The trustees send the file to the comptroller’s office to calculate the tax relief portion. The trustees then send the information to their printing vendor to distribute. Citizens will have their bill by Oct. 1, according to Isbell.
County billing is usually managed after all the cities have passed their rates, however, since this will not happen until mid-September for some areas, Isbell has decided to advance.
Tax payments are due before March 1 every year. Payments made after are fined.
Citizens with financial concerns can apply for a tax freeze through the trustee’s office. This keeps your tax at a certain rate, regardless of assessed property value. Persons of interest must own their residence, be 65 years of age or older, and not have an income exceeding the county limit established by the comptroller’s office.
The tax rate will remain as such until the reappraisal process begins again in 2024.
Property value increases
White House 41%